A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that teens probably won't be interested in this Woody Allen drama, which has some mature themes -- namely, murder and how killing cannibalizes the soul. Lies build upon lies, and although the actual crime isn't shown explicitly, the lead-up to it is fairly detailed, including lots of discussion about how it will happen. Guns are brandished, too, and one character seems completely lacking in conscience. But in the end, a moral center is found, and the "punishment" meted out seems quite grim.
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What's the story?
Life seems fairly idyllic for two English brothers in CASSANDRA'S DREAM. Ambitious Ian (Ewan McGregor) might have a chance at making some real money with a hotel venture, and soft-hearted Terry (Colin Farrell) has hit a winning streak at the track. But matters soon take a nightmarish turn. Ian falls for vampy, worldly actress Angela (Hayley Atwell) and, partly to impress her, wants out of his father's humble restaurant so he can finally join the big leagues and become a hotelier. And Terry racks up monstrous gambling debts he can't pay with his mechanic's salary. Money and salvation arrive in the form of the legendary Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson), a self-made millionaire who bent some laws trying to make money off a deal and now needs his nephews to perform an unsavory deed: murder. Out of loyalty and desperation, they accept his proposal, but neither is prepared for how the other will react in the aftermath.
Is it any good?
Director Woody Allen has finally found his groove again. In Cassandra's Dream, Allen -- who lost his way in recent years with duds like Scoop and Melinda and Melinda -- makes a successful return to subjects that have repeatedly fascinated him: crime and punishment. He headed in that direction with Match Point, which itself was a retread of Crimes and Misdemeanors (arguably one of Allen's masterpieces). But while Match Point strained to be sophisticated and analytical, Cassandra's Dream is a lean, mean, taut machine.
Which isn't to say that the movie doesn't have flaws. For starters, characters often explain rather than banter. (Where, oh where, has Allen's complete ease with dialogue gone?) They're also drawn so much to type that it's comic -- in the beginning, Angela is such a man eater that she might as well have been feasting on human flesh. But there's no doubt that Allen teases out wonderfully layered performances from his actors, specifically Farrell (painfully tragic) and Wilkinson (icy and manipulative). And the movie doesn't suffer from dull spots -- suspenseful moments are played for maximum tension, while uncomfortable ones enhance the drama.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the film's take on what happens to a murderer in the wake of his crime. Do the reactions seem realistic or "Hollywood-ized"? Why is the movie industry fascinated with this subject? Are there lessons to be learned from that fascination in general -- or this movie specifically? What does this movie have in common with other Woody Allen films? How is it different?